Windows Phone Impresses but has Room for Improvement

In the same manner I did with my HP TouchPad list of annoyances, I need to offer this disclaimer to diffuse any hate mail from hard core fans of Windows Phones. Here it is:

Windows Phone is the best mobile operating system available today. I have a Samsung Focus (running the Windows Phone Mango beta), an iPad, and the HP TouchPad. I have carried Androids, iPhones, and Blackberries and the Windows Phone is my system of choice.

I’m not talking about the old-school Windows Mobile 6.x phones that grew into a fragmented mess.  I’m talking about the written from scratch Windows Phone 7 that was released in 2010. Even with a horrible marketing effort from Microsoft, people who use it start to understand that its usefulness comes from its integration and simplicity. Just ask Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert. Or check out this article from Ziff-Davis last week on the stability of Windows Phone.

Step out of the Reality Distortion Field and you will realize that “other” companies create quality products. In fact, Windows Phone is the best thing to come out of Microsoft in years. (Although some would argue for Kinect.) The ease of use combined with stability and rich feature set makes for a truly remarkable product. I’m running on a Focus (which is a somewhat older WP device) and it is the smoothest, most responsive system I have.  I like my tablets but the Windows Phone operating system is smoother, more responsive, and less quirky. There won’t be a “Windows Phone Tablet” because Windows 8 (yes, the desktop version of Windows) will run on mobile platforms including phones and tablets.  It’s a shame there won’t be a WP Tablet because the hub concept would work perfectly on this form factor.  I’m sure there is a WP Tablet somewhere in a Microsoft lab, but it will never see the light of day.

By the way, after I posted my list of HP TouchPad annoyances, HP stated they were reevaluating their tablet strategy. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen this time!

As great as Windows Phone may be, it is still a relatively new system and there is obvious room for improvement. Here are my top annoyances of Mango:

  1. Customization is lacking. Yes, I know this goes against the Windows Phone simple is better theme, but I saw a silly app called “Phone 8” that showed how basic customization could be performed without taking away from the live tile experience. The app demonstrates concept themes that vary the level of opacity of the tiles and allows a background image to be visible.
  2. What in the heck is Tap-by-Turn navigation? Yes, I know that turn-by-turn is available through various third-party apps. I’ve also heard the speculation that Microsoft could not include turn-by-turn due to some licensing restriction with NavTeq, but this needs to get worked out. Tap-by-turn may work technically but it is a horrible compromise.
  3. Where is the “Find on page” option in IE9? It was there in the original version of Windows Phone with IE8 so why is it missing now?
  4. Limited multitasking has been a part of Windows Phone from the beginning.  It was ‘limited’ since it only allowed for managed apps to run simultaneously. You could easily listen to music with the built-in Zune media player, take a phone call and browse the web. However, if you wanted to listen to music with another app, like Last.FM, your music would stop as soon as you navigated away from the app. With the Mango build Microsoft has created a cool new hybrid technique that sits between full-blown multitasking (like WebOS) and a most recently used list (like iOS). This has promise as a multitasking system that doesn’t kill your battery. My issue is with the user interface implementation. To switch between tasks you are presented with a card-like interface that is similar to WebOS users. In Mango, when you hold down the back key you will see the five most recent applications. However, there is no easy way to close the app from this card view or change the number of items in the list. This really seems half-baked.
  5. Why why why is there no way to take a screenshot? I would love to show you the multitasking card view, but I cannot grab a screen capture. I heard someone speculate that this is to protect potential copyright violations. Whatever! Every other OS in the world (including Windows) has this ability.
  6. No Citrix client. This might not mean much to you, but in a corporate environment this could be a huge deal and prevent Windows Phone from being adopted as a standard. The Citrix guys blame Microsoft for not giving them the proper hardware level access in the API. We’ll see if that changes now that the Mango API has just been released.
  7. No Cisco-EAP WiFi client. File this under “special corporate uses”, but this one is biting me since we use CEAP as our WiFi authentication method at work.
  8. No Cisco AnyConnect client. Not having CEAP wouldn’t be that big of a deal if I could simply VPN/SSL in. However, that’s not an option either.
  9. Some major apps are still not available. There are over 30,000 apps in the catalog. That is a huge milestone that was reached very quickly. This is even more remarkable when you consider that most of these are high-quality apps. There is definitely a limit on the number of fart apps. So what’s missing? For me, I am looking for UrbanSpoon and the Starbucks pay app. I find it ridiculous that the UrbanSpoon app is missing.
  10. There are no folders. Since there are so many apps, why is there no way to organize these on the phone?  You can pin your favorites to the home screen but there is no concept of folders (The same feature is lacking on HP’s WebOS and the first few generations of Apple’s iOS).  The compensating factor is the ability to search for an app, but I would still like to see some type of multilevel organization structure in the app list.
  11. You cannot search the full index of the phone.  You can search for apps.  You can search for emails in the email client. You can search for contacts in People Hub. You cannot search in one place and return all results on the phone like you can using the “Just Type” feature in WebOS.  This is a “Bing Phone” so you would think this would be possible.
  12. Cloudy cloud story.   What is the ultimate cloud strategy for this platform? From day 1 of Windows Phone, you could login to and find or lock your lost phone.  You could also log into SkyDrive and see your photos.  But does everyone know that?  There is little evidence of this on the phone or on the Zune software.  Why isn’t Zune cloud enabled?  I would love to see my phone synced with Zune through the SkyDrive cloud. Or take it further, why do I need Zune?  Why can’t I have a folder on my desktop that syncs with Phone via the cloud?
  13. FlickR integration should be part of Windows Phone like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. I would like to browse the pictures hub and see FlickR albums listed as well.
  14. Custom ringtones are a pain without a 3rd party app.  In traditional Microsoft style, they provided the guts and are waiting for a partner to build a usable implementation.  As it stands today, without an app, you can create a Windows Phone ringtone by setting the genre to “ringtone” using the Zune desktop software. This is a pain.
  15. ActiveSync needs a private app store. Yes, as a corporate user I would love to have a private market place.  I think the natural place for this is on our ActiveSync server.
  16. Why can’t I run Windows Phone apps in Windows? OK, this really isn’t a Windows Phone annoyance, but it is still annoying.  If WP apps are written in Silver Light, why can’t I run the apps as a gadget in Windows 7?  This would be huge and open up new doors for new types of apps and attract thousands of new app developers. Update:  This will now be possible in Windows 8.

15 thoughts on “Windows Phone Impresses but has Room for Improvement”

  1. Joey, I have really become a fan of your writing. I have never used a Windows Phone. I know a lot of people who talk about it but never hear of anyone taking the plunge. It’s interesting to read that you have one and to see you are keen on it. I’ll be curious to see of Microsoft actually steps up their marketing for this. They now have an X-box + Skype phone. If that was actually productized or advertised, the flood gates would open. How can some companies like Apple, Starbucks, & Coke do so much product placement but others like Microsoft, Samsung, HP, Sony won’t or don’t???

  2. Thanks for focusing on the operating system itself and not tangent-ing to a hardware review. There are several different WP phones available and that kind of discussion needs a its own topic.

  3. @old-mac-nut: MS has been able to get a few phones into TV shows. Castle, Chase, Jamie Oliver’s US food show, that vampire show on The CW, and a few others I can’t remember. Granted, it’s not plastered all over the place. I agree though, that MS needs to get devices into more “celebrity” hands. Bandon Watson at Microsoft has been on a tear getting celebs to try out phones. Hell Ryan Seacrest (Seacrest IN!) has an HD7 and uses it.

    Joey, some good points.

    * WP7 is aimed at Consumers, and not truly the Enterprise.

    * In Mango, if you have over 45 apps installed, then there is the quick alphabet picker.

    * I agree that Bing should be able to search ALL content on the phone.

    * The Zune Client is outdated in terms of features. Hell, there is no proper way of backing up your data. And I’m not talking about music, videos or pictures. I’m talking about app data. Text Messages. The call log. Also, there is no way to remove apps you have downloaded, but don’t want anymore from your account. So, if you wipe your device, the ZUne client will resync the apps you downloaded from the Zune client. It doesn’t even resync apps you downloaded via your phone. I don’t know how or why MS hasn’t fixed this. (BTW, complain to @skipdeez on twitter, as he manages the Zune Client dev team.)

    * There will be a private marketplace for Enterprises to use. This hasnn’t been enabled yet.

    * Ringtones is quite easy. Granted, there is no built-in way to create the ringtone from an existing song. But marking it as a Ringtone and syncing is quite simple.

    * Windows and Windows Phone 8 are rumored to have compatible binaries, so one could run an app on both platforms. Now, there would be a requirement to compile two different binaries when an enduser does have an ARM-based tablet running Windows 8. But, there is really nothing preventing a dev from compiling the Windows Phone 7 app as a native SilverLight app for your browser.

    In all, I love my Samsung Focus for a Gen 1 device. I also cannot wait for the Nokia hardware. Because HTC, LG and Samsung sure aren’t bringing top of the class hardware to the table.

  4. (I run the program management/design team for Windows Phone at Microsoft.)

    There’s a common misconception about how multitasking works in Mango, and it’s worth clarifying this a bit. Above you are describing the task switcher view and you say “However, there is no easy way to close the app from this card view or change the number of items in the list. This really seems half-baked.”

    Here’s the key fact: in Mango there’s no need (or actual benefit on system performance) for users to MANUALLY close those apps. They aren’t actually running!! In Mango’s multitasking model, 3rd party apps are ‘suspended’ when you navigate away from them, and we’ve designed a mechanism for separate ‘background agents’ to be run periodically or on events (like “the phone is on power/wifi”) to do things in the background. There’s a Ui for managing background agents in Settings.

    “Closing” the app task-page in this view wouldn’t actually free up any additional memory or make the system faster. It’s not needed because the app isn’t running. We didn’t put the close box in because it wouldn’t actually do anything meaningful! 🙂

    This is something that’s a little confusing and we will hopefully do a blog post on the Windwos Phone Blog to help people understand. Thanks for your post and your support!

  5. @JoeBelfiore, thanks for the reply. I’m glad you read my post. You make a good point and I realize that the apps aren’t really running and consuming resources. However, it is still psychologically satisfying to be able to “close” an app. Closing an app (whether by clicking an “X” or throwing a card off the screen) is baked into our beings as computer users.

    Keep up the good work. You are off to a great start.

  6. Joe – its not just about “freeing” up memory, what if I want only specific 5 apps in that list? There are numerous apps (like weather for e.g) which are one off and I may not want to clutter my task switcher view. I should be able to decide that, not the OS. This just adds to the long “lack of customization” list in an otherwise great OS. I don’t want MS to do the thinking for me, I know better 🙂

  7. THANK YOU!!! This may be the first blog I have seen that outlines the issues without:
    1. Someone making excuses (I’m looking at you ios, android, and WP fanbois)
    2. Starting a religious war

    I have been considering the Dell Venue Pro that is a Windows Phone with a phyiscal keyboard that slides out from the bottom. Have you used one of these?

  8. I don’t know… Most of these seem like nitpicks to me. With the exception of 9 (app gaps), 11 (universal search) and 12 (a cohesive cloud strategy), do any of those really make WP7.5 less competitive than other platforms?

    Will any of these really deter the majority of the public from adopting it? Sure, there’ll be a group out there that’ll consider the lack of Citrix client to be a dealbreaker. But I’ll wager anything you want that those people are a very small minority.

    So the question is, why is Windows Phone not selling? My guess is the fault lies mostly with the poor (or lack of?) marketing.

  9. Cecil, thanks for the note. I agree that my list is not a litany of showstoppers. That’s why I called it a list of “annoyances.” I also agree that the lack of marketing has been pathetic. Aside from the initial burst of TV spots, there has been very little in terms of product placements or other spots. Perhaps this will change with Mango and Nokia.

  10. Joey, interesting topic. I’m a recovering Apple guy myself and have carried a Droid for a year. Let’s just say I am not impressed. My iphone was not perfect and I bought a lot of hype, but this Droid…. Where do I start? It requires constant reboots, was confusing to learn, and is frankly ugly ugly ugly. The HTC Sense software helps with the ugliness, but in-turn slows it down. Everyone I talk to to or read about that has a Windows Phone gushes about it. I wouldn’t say that you are gushing, but you point out some of the drawbacks which are not huge. (Try getting the Apple fanboy camp to point out deficiencies in their devices!!) The only drawback that concerns me is the lack of customization. Do you know if future versions will allow for more customization?

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